“Don’t Italians like to ride?” I asked our guide. “They like to drive fast,” she replied.
Beneath the cloudless blue skies of Italy’s southern Tuscany,
my chestnut-colored Arabian stallion, Amigo, and I have settled into an easy trot until our guide urges us to a gallop behind her.
We soon pass through meadows with row after row of giant sunflowers and into a field dotted with round wheels of stacked hay as big as truck tires. An occasional dark green cypress tree stands sentry on a distant hill, and the only sounds are hooves gently pounding into the earth. I am in Tuscany on a horse riding vacation because I don’t want to explore this part of Italy from a car or train.I love horses and find it very exciting.
Apart I’d like to gain more experience on a horse. There are eleven of us, all Americans,
ranging from 20 to 35, except for one teenage girl.
In the distance a village tower bell chimes eighteen times. It is seven o’clock, time to go back to Poggio, our guest house and Equestrian Center in Celle sul Rigo, owned by Claudia and her husband, Roberto Gori. Poggio is a spacious sun-washed pink stucco villa originally a farmhouse that has been in Roberto’s family since the 1800s. About ten years ago, Roberto and Claudia expanded the main house to three more buildings of suites, each with living room and dining area, fireplace, and kitchenette. Guests walk to the main dining room a few dozen feet away for hot steaming coffee latte and a huge buffet breakfast.
Though the property features two large swimming pools, a tennis court and archery facilities, the main draw is the equestrian center with 37 horses, a riding ring, and endless wooded trails that lead to meadows, vineyards and medieval villages.
Each morning we saddle up the horses and Mauro, the riding instructor, or Claudia herself, points out our destination for the day. As Poggio is perched on top of a hill with a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside, we can see past the tile roofs of the nearby village of Celle sul Rigo as far as the mountains on the horizon. Yesterday, Mauro indicated a small distant hill town whose silhouetted tower looked like a rook from a chess set. We followed the old Cassia Road that originally linked Rome with Northern Italy and rode by a crumbling post house built by Ferdinand de Medici in 1587. With each ride, I feel like I am in a time machine!
Our “tough” routine is a morning trail ride, picnic lunch, a swim back, and later in the afternoon, lessons in the ring. I love the bilingual instructions but I don’t like posting. Most people in the group are professional riders, accustomed to the lean design of the English saddles. I’m just an advanced beginner.
Mauro tells me I have to learn how to control the horse and to post correctly. “Uno due,” he calls, “Uno due.” I pull myself up, then back down. “Don’t go up so far, you are using too much energy for nothing.” I try it with less effort. “Good. Better,” he nods, then suddenly says, “Galoppo!” and Amigo’s hooves kick up the dirt as I follow the pack. Seconds later he calls out, “Trotto,” and we’re back to “Uno, due, uno due.” Often, the Italian guests staying at Poggio come to watch, and sometimes they even take riding lessons. But mainly the Italians come to eat and lounge by the pool. As you can see they are very lazy…
Yesterday we tied up our horses and explored Radicofoni, a medieval town with a 9th century castle and a spectacular view of the countryside. Then we walked through the cobblestone streets of the village, each stone house decorated with hanging pots of bright red geraniums. Inside the 14th century San Pietro Apostolo, Mauro showed us the original bell sitting in the back of the church. “Every bell is dated,” he said, “so you can always tell how old a church is.”
My favorite dish at Poggio’s own gourmet restaurant is Pici, a local pasta only made in this region and served with garlic and spicy tomato sauce. Other nights they serve ravioli filled with potato and sheep’s cheese, always followed by a fish or meat dish and mouth-watering Italian cake or gelato (Ice-Cream).
Each day we ride to a different place. We visited the steaming sulphur Renaissance pool in the main square of Bagni Vignoni; explored the medieval village and castle of San Casciano Bagni; rode through the gorges of Rocca d’Orcia; and went to Pienza, my favorite gem. Only a city street long, this ancient town is crammed with small stores selling cheeses, olive oils, the famous local Brunello wine, and buttery-soft leather journals with hand-made paper.
style=”color: #55613a;”>And now here it is, our last day of horse riding. We are with Claudia on an evening trail ride. She pats her horse and says, “So, we go back for dinner?